Some statues have found unlikely homes in Southern California

It used to be a sort of running joke: Where else but in Southern California would a high school have a statue of a movie star on its front lawn? The reference was to Venice High’s Myrna Loy monument.

But there was an explanation.

Loy was not an actress, just a student, when she modeled for the sculpture in 1922. The oft-damaged cement work was replaced by a bronze version earlier this month.

Several other local statues and busts of notables also occupy what seem, at first glance, to be unlikely settings.

Who would have thought…

China’s Mao Tse-tung in Yorba Linda?

Conservative icon John Wayne outside the headquarters of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt?

Actor James Dean at the Griffith Observatory?

Or, how about comic Jack Benny in Rancho Cucamonga, Ludwig van Beethoven in Pershing Square and Amelia Earhart in North Hollywood?

But there are more or less logical reasons for each site.

Mao, for example, is in the World Leaders Hall of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Nixon chose Mao and other subjects because he had met with each of them, but there were still some protests over the dictators in the display.

So, the National Archives and Records Administration, which took over operation of the museum in 2007, posted a sign saying that the federal government takes no position on the “legacies” of the leaders.

Since then, museum Director Timothy Naftali said, there have been no protests.

Wayne’s statue in Beverly Hills dates back to the time that the building was owned by Great Western Savings and Loan. The Duke was the company’s TV spokesman. Flynt bought the property after the star’s death.

Wayne’s bronze likeness, astride a horse, his back turned toward the Flynt building, looks like he’s trying to ride off into the sunset.

Speaking of actors, James Dean would seem to be the wrong type of star to have a bust at the observatory, but the likeness is in memory of a knife-fight scene in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause.”

It isn’t known if comic Jack Benny ever visited what is now Rancho Cucamonga. But the city immortalized Benny and his violin in honor of a frequently heard joke on his old show in which a train station announcer would intone, “All aboard for Anaheim, Azusa and CUC-amonga.”

Another fellow who knew something about music — Beethoven — looks a bit lost in Pershing Square. Of course, when it was unveiled in 1933, the Los Angeles Philharmonic was based across the street.

Orchestra members raised the funds to pay for the sculpture. They played Beethoven compositions in the Glendale studio of the sculptor, Arnold Foerster, to inspire him.

The philharmonic now resides at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Bunker Hill, about 10 blocks away. A spokeswoman said there are no plans to move the composer up there.

But a surprising number of the statues have been on the move.

Earhart’s likeness disappeared a few years ago in North Hollywood, although this was by design. The original fiberglass work was replaced by a bronze version near the Earhart library in North Hollywood, her last residence before her fatal 1937 flight.

Benny originally was placed outside the Epicenter, the ballpark of Rancho Cucamonga’s minor league team, the Quakes.

“You just know a lot of baseball fans shuffle past the statue wondering why the bronze guy is holding a violin instead of a bat,” wrote columnist David Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

Benny has since been moved to the city’s Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, where his violin fits in. Or does it? In a way, it’s no tribute to the musicians who perform there, since Benny’s miserable violin playing was a gag on his show.

Newport Beach may ride to the rescue of Flynt prisoner John Wayne, a resident of the city at the time of his death. City Manager Dave Kiff, who admits the possibility is “on the back burner right now,” says there would be a spot for Wayne at a park near Upper Newport Bay.

Flynt wouldn’t care. The Times reported in 2008 that he’d like to replace Wayne with something “fitting for his adult entertainment empire: a 50-foot statue celebrating the male anatomy.”

The late Beatle John Lennon isn’t a figure you would necessarily identify with Los Angeles, but his statue stood on loan outside City Hall East in the early 1980s.

It was the work of local artist Brett-Livingstone Strong. And it was unveiled to kick off the 1981 L.A. Street Scene celebration. It hung around for several months, long enough for someone to tear loose his bronze granny glasses.

The Lennon statue, owned by a private collector, later appeared in New York’s Central Park and other sites before being placed in storage in Los Angeles.

Publicist Bruce Replogle recently announced that the bronze is for sale for $2 million. The glasses have been replaced.